Memories of Roubaix

Paris–Roubaix Sunday 11 April 2010

Roubaix Velodrome is a long way from the train station and there aren’t many signs. For future reference, don’t go to the right from the main entrance even though the sign tells you that the way to the velodrome. The most direct route starts down the wide main drag directly in front of the main station. After that it’s a little more awkward but the locals are very helpful, well they would have been if I could understand more than 10 words of French.

I did understand the words of the woman who said It’s such a long way, hop in I’ll give you a lift. By then I had joined Matt from Wales and Joe from Bristol and this lovely woman dropped us off almost at the point where the riders leave Pave Section 1 and ride into the stadium. Who says the French are rude? Bliss.

And a new delight. You walk into the velodrome and find yourself a posie. It’s free. Be careful not to drink too much beer though. The toilets are an adventure (probably more for females given that there are just general toilets).

If you are at Roubaix Velodrome by 2.30pm, you’ll still get a seat in the stand and there’s still plenty of room around the fence where there are some places to sit down too.

No, I didn’t make it out to the real pave. But it wasn’t wet so possibly not quite as exciting. But I have critically examined pave on country roads around Belgium. Joe bemoaned his missing out on the pave, more and more with each beer. Funnily enough the toilets weren’t a prob for him. He didn’t bother with them, just found a tree. Like me the boys were training it; unlike me they were staying in Brugge. Stay in Ghent – much cheaper, less touristy and quite gorgeous.

With 20 km to go for Cancellara in the race, it was getting pretty crowded. All the stairs were full of people enjoying the race on the big screen and the in-velodrome entertainment of the Cycle Ballet (from 16 to 60 with green wings). The other entertainment came from the police officer who knocked down a whole line of temporary wall (metal gate-like) with advertising and stood there like a goose, not attempting to help the officials who had to get it all upright again.

The race approached and the blowers came out to clean the 330 metres of velodrome surface. Two of them walked all the way around getting all the rubbish off the main surface. Just below is a gravel/dirt section before the grass begins in the centre of the stadium.

So we had all the exhaust fumes from the blowers as well as the smoke fumes (hadn’t Sarkozy banned smoking in public places?). Not in Roubaix Velodrome apparently. A young mother smoked almost continually 3 rows in front of us with the chill wind taking the smoke directly into her 6-year-old daughter’s face. Clearly she is used to it.

The big screen was just a little far away to read the words, though it was great for seeing the approaching action. And I sure couldn’t understand a thing the announcer was saying though he said an awful lot of it.

OHS is a different story from Australia. Big men blocked the stairway and were quite challenging to young people trying to make their way up and down. HaHaHa – the kids looked quite disturbed by it all. Most blokes making their way out frequently and come back with two beers at a time. I hoped their bladders could cope. But why should I worry about them. They had their trees. I was just thankful again I had stayed off the beer for the day.

The police did nothing about crowd control. In Australia, at the first signs of people congregating on stairs, off they would go. Don’t they know about that place in Britain where people were crushed to death? And what about the fire hazard from all the smoking?

Do I sound like a whinger? Sorry, I was having a great time (when I got out of the freezing wind and the fag smoke).

Around me most people appeared to be Belgian. Very little French being spoken though we were in France. They all love a cycling hero and Cancellara was one that day. They cheered him all the way round one and a half circuits of the track.

As soon as Cancellara crossed the line, the crowd started to go. A few hardy souls stayed until the sag wagon and clapped each rider who made it to the finish. Clearly I was one of them.

Next time I’ll make it out to the pave. But velodrome or pave, hire a car. It was way past my bedtime when I finally made it back to Ghent.

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